Monday, November 10, 2008

Life Stories

I've been thinking a lot lately about the class I will take next semester, the counseling pre-practicum. I signed up for it this semester but ended up dropping it when I realized part of the class included taking the 200-question comprehensive final exam for the entire masters program. Nope, I am not quite ready for that. Another requirement for that class is to create a video (with a classmate) demonstrating counseling techniques. Since I am still pondering the kind of counselor I will be, I also didn't feel ready for that!

Yes, you might say the closer I get to the end of this program, the more nervous I become. On one hand, it is exciting to think that I've made it this far. On the other, the reality is I am now (supposedly) to the point where all that I have absorbed in all those classes is supposed to be distilled enough that I can say with confidence, "I am going to be a [fill in the blank] counselor," where [the blank] includes my counseling theory of choice. True, I am getting closer to being able to pinpoint what kind of therapist I will be, but nothing is set in stone yet.

My previous blog entry was about William Glasser's reality theory. Today, I will share notes I took last night about narrative therapy.

Narrative therapy involves hearing interpretive stories the therapist views as truth. Dominant culture narratives are powerful, and individuals "internalize the messages from dominant discourses and form their identity around the positions to live from that these messages offer -- even if those positions are not useful to the individual." [That sentence is not worded very well but is lifted directly from my textbook!] 

To me, this means we do things out of habit and because we've been conditioned to do them. Here is what Michael White, one of the originators of narrative therapy, believes: "a dominant discourse functions to perpetuate viewpoints, processes, and stories that serve those who benefit from that culture but that may work against the agency and life opportunity of the individual." 

Gerald Corey (in the Theory and Practice textbook) goes on to say "power, knowledge, and 'truth' are negotiated in families and other social and cultural contexts." He seems to really respect the individual in therapy, which serves as "a reestablishment of personal agency from the oppression of external problems and the dominant stories of larger systems." 

The stories each one of us tell about our lives are subjective; the realities in which we live involve people telling their own unique stories about the common lives they (we) live among each other, viewing the same world in different ways. The narrative therapist listens to clients' stories, trying to discern times in their lives when they were resourceful (living an alternative story, for example); he or she engages clients by using questions to facilitate their exploration. Of course, diagnosis and labeling is discouraged, as is "accepting a totalizing description based on a problem." 

The idea of influence mapping is significant, and so is the ability "to assist clients in separating themselves from the dominant stories they have internalized so that space can be opened for the creation of alternative life stories." This is basically saying the therapist encourages the client to detach from the old painful stories in order to begin creating more fulfilling ones. 

This fits right in with reality therapy, or "positive addiction" in the sense that there is more to life than just feeling less misery; to improve a person's life, he or she must do more than just "stop" feeling so miserable; "stories ... shape reality in that they construct and constitute what we see, feel, and do." Stories also "grow out of conversations in a social and cultural context."

We are all "courageous victors who have vivid stories to recount."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Positive Addiction

These blogs can be so addicting! And not just blogs, the entire Internet is addicting. I know I am using the wrong word here for "addiction" refers to something that is harmful. Granted, Internet addiction can be harmful; but in and of itself, it is not. To the contrary, it has helped us connect to one another and to new ideas in ways we had never experienced in the past.

Yes, I am glad about the election results. I voted for Obama and so will either take credit or "the heat" for whatever becomes of the presidency, whatever happens to the nation as the result of an Obama presidency. This doesn't mean I will accept his actions or failure to act as
my fault or in any other way influenced by me personally. All I am saying is I did vote for him, am relieved he won, and believe that the work is only just beginning.

I am studying to be a professional counselor and am at a point in the masters program where I pretty much need to decide on, or at least
lean toward, a particular method of counseling. There are many, let me tell you. And they range anywhere from almost completely hands-off to hyper-annoyingly directive and meddlesome. Of course, I wish to adopt something inbetween these extremes; but the question of being directive or nondirective still remains. It is my opinion that the nondirective approaches are best for truly helping someone come to terms with his or her own life.

Right away, in the very first semester of the program and in a class focusing on the various theories, the idea of "reality therapy" struck me as worthwhile. First of all, the name resonates deeply. If we ignore reality, we do so at our peril, individually and collectively.
William Glasser is the person behind reality therapy, which started as control theory but then morphed into choice theory.

Dr. Glasser's thoughts on "positive addiction" intrigue me, although I believe the very word
addiction to be fraught with problems, namely the negative connotation of it. An addiction is, by nature, compulsive, needful, a habit characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal, and it specifically refers to something known by the user to be harmful. This is a dictionary definition of the word. I find that my desires for potentially harmful substances are tempered by competing desires to avoid those same substances. For example, I might want and crave a second cup of coffee in the morning or another glass of wine at night; but the part of me that wants to stay physically and mentally healthy might reject the idea and find a substitute, such as water or fruit.

Dr. Glasser describes how weakness is the cause of almost all the unfortunate choices we make. He also talks about attractiveness and how it wanes as our "negative" addictions increase in intensity. On the other hand, positive addictions strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying. But if we look at our actual lives, we often see distressing patterns in ourselves and in the people close to us. These are facts of our existence; they are our "reality" because we live with these people (and ourselves), and all of our lives become intimately entwined with each other. In the case of the people we live with, they are pretty much "in our hair"
all the time, even when they are not present.

The benefits of postive addiction are plentiful: confidence, creativity, happiness, and good health. Dr. Glasser asserts that there is more to living than just staying alive. And although this might seem to be merely stating the obvious, he goes on to say that we find this "more" through love and doing something we believe to be worthwhile. He relates accomplishment to pleasure and lack thereof to pain.

I think of the election results here and how so many people who worked hard on getting Barack Obama elected are now feeling a very well-deserved sense of pride and accomplishment. Again, that particular journey is just beginning. There is a lot of work to do. Where do "we" start; and specifically, where do each one of us start.

I enjoy reading Mark Bryan's
artist's way blog and surfed over there earlier today, when I was sitting and thinking about these new beginnings, both for the country as a whole and for individuals in our actual lives, outside the realm of politics. In one of his postings, I noticed he says basically the same thing as William Glasser about accomplishments. Mark says, "The remembered joy of creativity accomplished can help get me started again when I am stalled."

Now, this is not rocket science you know. It is common sense. But it is still good to be reminded of it. Thinking about positive feelings, I wonder whether these are sufficient rewards, in and of themselves, or if we really do need something tangible. Feelings can be so fleeting. Mark talks about consulting with a friend (a
great idea) when he is blocked and wants to get moving again. He says the quickest way out of his procrastination spiral (now there's a phrase worth remembering) is to "stop thinking of the project as a whole and just focus on doing the day’s work at hand."

All of this, from the political victory we just witnessed to the personal "victories" each one of us wants to achieve, is related. Private and public become mirrors to one another. Recognizing this fact helps us to be more effective, I think. And speaking of recognition, Dr. Glasser points to the importance of being
recognized for accomplishments, how failure to achieve this recognition can lead to misery. He goes on to say the "hang-up" over what to do and how to do it is rarely the real problem; we might understand perfectly well what it is we need and how we can obtain it, but the real problem, he says, is "we don't have the strength to do what will make us happy."

Isn't that interesting? We lack strength to do that which we know we need to do. When I think about the various problems in my life, I realize the best way to deal with them is with both honor and integrity. But if I don't
know how to get what I want and need and at the same time keep my reputation intact, then being "strong" is a moot point.

In any case, I do seem to be leaning strongly toward reality therapy as a theory of choice in my own professional life.